Bhopal and Air India bombing: Why is India acting like a client state of West?

In one way, the Air India Kanishka bombing and Bhopal gas tragedy are entirely two different incidents, far removed in distance and time. Yet both of them, occurring within a year of each other, underline the same point: criminal neglect by the authorities that led to scores of killings. Ignoring the timely warning that the catastrophe was imminent, both the Canadian government and Union Carbide at Bhopal did nothing to avert the tragedies. Even warnings through email were deliberately ignored.

It is all right for Justice John Major, who headed the probe in the Kanishka sabotage, to say that "this is a Canadian atrocity" or for the magistrate at Bhopal to take the operators of the plant to task for negligence. But hard words do not minimize the crime, nor do they crush bones. They do not serve even as a balm on the wounds inflicted through sheer carelessness. In both the cases, there is no running away from the fact that they were deliberate, intentional murders.

As many as 329 passengers, mostly of Indian origin, died in the Kanishka crash. The number in Bhopal was between 15,000 and 20,000. In the first case, a group of extremists planned and executed the bombing of the plane through a time device. The authorities, as the probe reveals, were aware of how the plan was hatched. A person had also reported to the police how he heard a bomb exploding in a nearby forest. The extremists were rehearsing the plot. Still one intelligence agency did not pass on the information to the other and allowed the crime to be committed.

A better coordination, as suggested by the probe judge, or an overall supervisory outfit contemplated by the Canadian government, would help. But that is all for the future. What about punishing those who sensed the tragedy was waiting to happen and still kept quiet? Their hands are as much tainted with blood as the extremists who had the plane blow up device. They cannot be allowed to go scot-free. If their crime goes unpunished, as it appears from the immediate reaction by Ottawa, it would amount to condoning murder. And if no head rolls, the government would be seen shielding the men working in police and intelligence agencies.

Nothing has been heard about the action on those who planted the bomb. They are said to be roaming free in Canada and thriving without a qualm of conscience. The Ottawa government has to look into the case de novo after the verdict from the fresh probe.

It is strange that the Indian government has not taken up the matter with Ottawa. People of Indian origin have been killed. If we are thinking of giving them the right to vote in Indian elections, we consider them Indians in the larger sense. The Canadian government should realize that India cares for people of its origin. It is a pity that New Delhi does not rise to the occasion when India's prestige is challenged. The way in which it has ignored racial attacks on Indians in Australia gives little hope of action on murder which was planned and carried out from the Canadian soil.

This type of timidity has emboldened the Dow Chemicals which has taken over Union Carbide but has refused to own responsibility at Bhopal where thousands were killed and hundreds of thousands affected health-wise. While Justice Major rightly put the blame on the Canadian government, the Group of Ministers (GoM)went out of the way to exonerate Rajiv Gandhi, India's Prime Minister, at the time of the Bhopal tragedy. They behaved like loyal members of the Congress party. When the then state chief minister Arjun Singh says that he had no locus standi, then who allowed Warren Anderson, then chief of Union Carbide, to escape from Bhopal? Anderson was flown to Delhi by a state plane.

Bodies of the Bhopal gas leak tragedy victims lying on the ground before mass burial

I do not know whether Rajiv Gandhi was responsible or not. Yet the reason given by the ministers is flimsy. That there was nothing on the record of the archives of the External Affairs and Home Affairs Ministries is no proof of his non-involvement. A CBI official has said that he was given written instructions by the External Affairs Ministry to go slow on the case. Why has the GoM not commented on that? The report is eyewash and does not hold Dow Chemicals, the company which took over Union Carbide, responsible.

The GoM, headed by Home Minister P. Chidambaram, has talked about compensation. But who will pay the compensation? Dow Chemicals, not the Indian Exchequer. But when he and Kamal Nath, a member of the GoM, were once trying to see that Dow Chemicals were not responsible for any compensation, the Prime Minister was unwise to appoint one as the chairman and include the other as a member of the group.

New Delhi must make Dow Chemicals pay the compensation and hold it responsible for removing the toxic material from the site at Bhopal. We should tear a leaf from President Obama's book. He has made London's BP to allocate $20 billion for the damage that the oil spill has created on the American coast. Why should India behave as it is a client state of the West? We owe them nothing. In fact, they should be tiptoeing to placate a country that has more than a billion people and a huge market.

Canada has at least committed itself to compensate the families of those who died in the Kanishka air crash. Dow Chemicals, on the other hand, has refused to do so. Let its conduct — it wants to make huge investment — be its credentials. India does not want it, if it is not willing to own the responsibility of rehabilitating and compensating the Bhopal gas victims.

Truth will some day catch up with the Congress. It may meet its nemesis in the general elections when the Bhopal gas tragedy will reverberate like the Bofors gun scandal did in the country. Rajiv Gandhi lost the polls. Congress president Sonia Gandhi should read the writing on the wall.

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